You need great content in order to attract traffic and nurture leads. But are you sure that hiring an outsourced content writer won’t backfire?
You’re exhausted. You’re pulled in 30 different directions. Your to-do list is bursting at the seams. You’ve got clients who need help. Fires to put out. An overflowing inbox.
Your redesign still isn’t finished. Your next product update hasn’t shipped. You’ve got HR stuff nagging at you daily. And a new idea to jot down before you lose it!
You’re mentally drained.
But then it dawns on you.
If you don’t write that new blog article that you promised yourself you’d finish in time for Monday’s newsletter, then you know what’ll happen: Your content marketing plan will fall by the wayside like it always does.
Should you outsource your content?
You know that most companies hire writers to create their blog content. There’s no way that founder of the million-dollar-business next door has the time to create all those blog posts, social media updates, and email newsletters herself.
But your business is different.
Your customers are different.
Only you can be the one to create content for your customers, since you know your market better than anyone. Right?
Look, I know the feeling. Your content is your direct voice to your customers. Except they’re not your customers yet. They’re people who might become your customers sometime in the future. That means it’s even more critical that every word resonates in just the right way. You must get this relationship off to the right start or you risk turning them away for good.
There’s an incredibly difficult hurdle that every customer must get past the moment they discover you for the first time. That’s the trust hurdle. Do they trust that the information you’re giving them is credible, useful, and worthy of them spending just one more minute of their time?
Because if they get even the slightest whiff of “fluff” from your content, they’re gone.
That’s the reality in today’s hyper-competitive content landscape. Your customers’ feeds and inboxes are more crowded and noisy than ever. You’ve got to break through.
I know the fear. I’ve been there. In my last company, I held on to writing our content myself for far too long. Had I known how long it would it take to figure out how to outsource content effectively, I would have begun that process much sooner!
Yes, outsourcing content is full of pitfalls. We’ll get to those (in painstaking detail so that you can avoid them) in just a moment. I’ve got a bundle of useful tools to help you get through this process too.
First, let me answer the question at hand. Should you outsource your content?
Yes. Here’s why…
The Cost of Doing Content Yourself
Are you aware of the true cost of you—the business owner—being the one in charge of creating all the content for your company’s blog, emails, and social media?
No matter how “epic” the content that you’re creating may be, it’s coming at a serious cost to your business.
I’ll cover the most costly pitfalls when outsourcing content in detail below. But first, let’s look at the costs of not outsourcing your content and keeping it in-house (or on your own to-do list):
Cost #1: Time
It may seem obvious. But then again, maybe not? Founders like you and me routinely under-value our time. We give it out like we’ve got endless wells of extra hours that’ll never run dry.
Wouldn’t that be nice?!
Well, you and I both know that’s not reality. And our time estimates aren’t grounded in reality either.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably said, “Today I’ll write this blog post and bang it out before lunch!” All of a sudden, it’s dinner time and you haven’t even finished the outline.
Everything else got in the way. Or pushed back. Or put off completely.
Now your to-do list is drowning and the things your business depends on are running late.
Just imagine what your week could have looked like if you didn’t have a 1,500-word article to write? I bet it would have been a lot more productive!
Cost #2: Commitment
Think of this one like the annoying cousin of Time who just never seems to go away.
If you’re the only person who’s creating the content for your company, then that means you’ve committed to being that person this week, next week, next month, and for the foreseeable future.
You know that when it comes to content marketing, keeping a fresh flow of new content to send to your list and building up your archive of content are key. It’s this long-term consistency that keeps your content driving up your traffic numbers, leads, and ability to nurture your longtime subscribers as they flow through your sales funnel (more on content funnels further along in this article).
You can let up for a week. No big deal. But then that turns into two weeks with nothing new published to your blog. Then three.
Then, just before you hop back on the writing horse, you leave for vacation with your family. And as soon as you return, your inbox is flooded and you’re playing catch-up.
So much for that long-term commitment to content marketing this year, huh?
Cost #3: Focus
Your focus will pay the price when you’re not outsourcing or delegating your content creation. I think of this one as an invisible cost. But it’s a serious money-pit nonetheless.
Here’s the thing: Like hours in the day, you also have a limited amount of mental creative energy. As a business owner, nearly everything you do requires a significant expenditure of that mental energy.
Multi-tasking and layering on multiple creative projects in the same day or week means you’re divvying up your creative energy to a point where you’re spreading your focus too thin. And the few bits of energy that you can give to each project are further diminished by the fact that you’re distracted. When you have multiple creative ideas simmering, they’ll never meet their true potential (if you’re ever able to ship them at all).
That means the quality and originality of your content (and your other projects) suffer, because your focus is spread too thin.
So not only could outsourcing content help you focus on your non-content projects, it could (and should) also mean that the content that’s produced by someone else should be better than what you could do, since your outsourced content team dedicated to doing just that!
Cost #4: You-Based Marketing
Finally, the the fourth cost is the diminished value of your business as a whole.
A few years ago, I sold my business. The new owner was able to take over that business completely, while keeping the same marketing strategy—largely content marketing—intact through and beyond this transfer of ownership.
Had I not invested (through years of trial and error!) in removing myself from our content creation and marketing process, that transfer of ownership wouldn’t have been easy. In fact, I’m fairly certain the business wouldn’t have held the same value and wouldn’t have attracted multiple offers if the marketing was completely reliant upon me being the one cranking out content every week.
So if you, as the founder, are insistent on you being the one creating all of your content to market your business, then you’ve got a You-Based Marketing strategy.
Some businesses do fine in that scenario. But regardless of whether or not you ever intend to sell or exit your business, there will almost certainly come a time when you need to step away for a while.
As a business owner, your goal should be to build a self-sustaining machine that can run and grow whether you’re there or not. And these days, since content is so closely tied in with just about every form of marketing, it would be wise to find the right way to outsource that critical piece.
To put these four costs into clearer terms for you, I created a cost calculation worksheet that you can use to figure out the true costs of you not outsourcing your content. Just answer a few questions and gain some clarity on this critical piece of the puzzle.
Content Outsourcing Pitfalls
We’ve all made ’em. Bad hires. Hiring before you’re ready. Choosing the wrong provider. Managing outsourced vendors badly. Making (and learning from) mistakes is part of the job when you’re building a business.
My goal for the rest of this article is to walk through some of the most common pitfalls when it comes to outsourcing your content. At my company Audience Ops, I hear the same stories from clients again and again, about how they’ve struggled to successfully outsource content before they came to us. I’m pulling from the most common stories I’ve heard.
But I’ve made many of these (painful) mistakes myself, through the years of running various businesses. So consider much of this first-hand experience too.
I’m grouping these pitfalls into four critical areas:
Pitfall #1: Hiring mistakes
Outsourcing content specifically has a few unique pitfalls that can really come at a cost if you don’t avoid them—from how you work with your writer(s) to how to cover all the missing gaps in the content marketing production line.
I’ll show you how to get these (seemingly) “little things” right.
Pitfall #2: Spending too little
It may seem obvious or simplistic, but there’s more to it than just dollars for words. How much you spend on content directly impacts your time and risk.
I’ll break this down for you and give you a different way to think about this investment.
Pitfall #3: Failure to maximize your time investment
A primary goal of outsourcing your content is to remove yourself (and your team) from the operation. But if you don’t maximize the impact of your personal input in the beginning, your results will suffer and you’ll never fully “escape” the process.
I’ll show you three ways you should be maximizing your time investment to make content work for your business.
Pitfall #4: Failure to measure (or act) on results
Too many businesses don’t measure, or as I’ll recommend below, grade, their results from content marketing. And many of those who do either cut bait too soon or fail to make the necessary adjustments as they go along.
I’ll walk through which metrics to keep an eye and how to adjust on the fly to give your strategy the best chance for success in the long run.
Hiring a Content Team
Pitfall #1 is making the common hiring mistakes most businesses make when they’re outsourcing content. What are they and how do you avoid them?
Hiring for content creation is very different than hiring for other roles. Yet many businesses treat this the same way they’d hire a freelancer for a small project.
The key is to understand that content marketing is not a quick, one-and-done type of project you can farm out on the cheap. You need to be strategic about who you work with, how you work with them, and your expectations going in.
Don’t just hire a writer.
Obviously, when you’re outsourcing content, you’ll need someone to write your content. And so you’ll need to hire a writer. That part isn’t rocket science.
But here’s the mistake most businesses make: They only hire a writer and expect them to take care of everything in the content stack.
You see, writing is just one piece of the puzzle. For best results, and to ensure that you’ll actually sustain this effort over the long-term, it’s best to have specialists (different people) handling each of these roles:
Writer & Content Strategist
They work with you to research and recommend topics that can be developed into highly-relevant content for your customers. The writer then drafts these pieces.
Even the best writers are poor self-editors. In order to give your content credibility, it should be error-free. But a great editor can also see to making improvements in flow, word choice, clarity, and relevance.
Most content pieces should include a featured image, and if necessary, diagrams and visuals to help illustrate the points being made. A skilled graphic designer, working off the direction from the writer, can really go a long way and take your content to the next level.
Once the content has been drafted, edited, and images have been created, all of that needs to be formatted and inputted into your WordPress blog, have optimized tags, categories, and meta descriptions added, be scheduled to publish, have social posts queued up, a newsletter scheduled, email opt-ins hooked up, the list goes on… a dedicated content assistant can handle all of that legwork.
The project manager serves a dual role: They’re part content strategist, giving a second voice to the strategic direction of your topics and goals. And they also oversee the delivery and including everything from planning deadlines and milestones, keeping the publish schedule on-track, reporting, and communicating updates with you.
The mistake most businesses make is hiring a single contractor to handle all of these responsibilities. A) they’ll never be experts at all of these things. B) it’s highly inefficient from both a cost and time perspective. And C) the likelihood of details falling through cracks goes through the roof.
So my recommendation is to build your content team with A-players in each of these roles. Or you can work with Audience Ops, where we assign each of these roles (along with our system and process) to work with you at a fraction of the cost (and headache) of hiring them separately.
Don’t work with many writers.
The other mistake I see many business owners make is to hire many different writers.
This often happens when you go to the big job sites like Upwork and hire many freelancers for one-off content assignments. Or, when you go to a content broker who doesn’t put you in direct contact with the writer who’s working on your content, but instead sends your request into a “black box”.
The pitfall when you have too many different writers (or writers you’re not in contact with) working on your content is this eliminates their ability to learn and grow with you over time.
The key, as I’ll show you below, is to make content work for your business in a sustainable, fluid, and adaptable way over the long-term. You should be able to work in collaboration with your content team, particularly the writer working on your stuff, to adapt and improve over time.
Having a single writer working on your content is key because they’ll naturally gain and retain an ever-improving understanding of your product, your ideal customer, the problems they face, their questions, and your most insightful answers to those questions. They can work and re-work these in multiple angles over the course of their time creating content for your business. When you’re working with multiple writers, every new person needs to go through the same learning process for every piece, which can only be surface level.
When you learn new things about your target customer, or when your product or service changes, or when you’re unhappy with the results or the speed at which those results are coming in, you can work with your writer on making the necessary adjustments. When you’re working with multiple writers, making those adjustments on the fly is nearly impossible.
This is why at Audience Ops, we assign the same people to work on your content team for the long-term, and it’s the way I’ve always gone about outsourcing my content for my businesses over the years.
How Much to Spend on Content?
Pitfall #2 is spending too little on content. So how much should you spend?
You already know how critical it is that your content is not only well-written, clearly communicated, and technically sound. It also has to be unique, insightful, and genuinely helpful for your target customer.
I’ll get into how to ensure this when outsourcing content in a moment. But for now, let’s focus on this question: How much should you budget for outsourcing content?
The truth is, not spending enough or spending cash on the wrong things often leads to unforeseen costs in other areas.
The exact dollar amount you should budget will vary depending on a variety of factors, such as the size of your business, your industry, how technical your content is, and so on. Plus, how expensive something is for a business is always relative. One business may see paying $400 for a blog article as a stretch. Another may see it as a steal. Both may be right for their own particular situations.
So what I want to focus on here are two additional factors that come into play when you’re deciding how much to spend on content. Those are your time and risk. Let me explain.
Outsourcing content will always require a significant chunk of your time up-front. You’ll spend time finding the right vendor, getting them up to speed on your business and target customers, and giving input on their early work. We’ll dive deeper into how to maximize the payoff of your up-front time below. For now, just know that it’s a part of this equation, no matter how much you plan to spend on content.
Typically, the more you spend on content, the more likely you’ll be able to reduce your time investment as you go along, freeing you up to grow other parts of your business.
If you seek out the cheapest writers and limit costs on the other parts of your content, like setup and distribution, then you’ll find that no matter much time you spend up-front, you’ll need to continuously put in hours of your own time over the long-run. Editing, re-writing content, re-explaining concepts, handling the setup, and doing the publishing and distribution legwork yourself. Low-priced solutions don’t handle this stuff (or don’t handle it well).
This chart represents what that will look like: Your spend is consistently low, your up-front time investment is high. Your time investment reduces a little once you get your routines in place, but you’re still spending significant chunks of your time (and mental focus) on managing, editing, and keeping your content quality high.
If you spend more on content, including hiring more experienced writers, designers, and editors, and you give your content the resources it needs to truly move the needle, then that significantly impacts your time. You’ll still spend that up-front time (wisely) but it should decrease over time, as your content vendors become more and more in-tune with your customers.
When you spend more on content, your time investment looks more like this:
There’s one more factor that’s tied in with your spend on content, and that’s the level of risk.
Specifically, I’m talking about the chances that your content initiative will actually pay off and continue to be a core, self-sustaining part of your marketing strategy.
You see, even if you keep costs down and you’re able to see positive results from publishing content, your level of risk is still high because of your time investment required. If your content requires your personal input in order to thrive, then the chances are high that you won’t be able to sustain that over the long term, which puts the whole strategy at risk.
So by budgeting in the mid-to-high range for your content (whatever those ranges are for you), you’ll be able to reap the benefits of consistently high-quality content, while reducing your (and your in-house team’s) time investment. That reduces and eliminates the risk of this program falling by the wayside, like content marketing so often does for many companies.
Your goal scenario should look like this:
Maximizing Your Time Investment on Content
Pitfall #3 is failure to maximize your time investment on content. How can you ensure you get out more than you put in?
Now let’s talk about your time. If you don’t use your time input wisely, especially early on in your quest to outsource and systematize your content, you’ll run into stumbling blocks that can bring the whole thing to a screeching halt.
There are two key mistakes you should avoid in order to maximize your time investment and ensure your content is launched, sustained, and successful over the long-term—even after you remove yourself (and your time!) from the picture.
Those two mistakes are:
- Investing too little time up-front
- Investing too much time for too long
Investing too little of your time up front.
You may think that outsourcing content means you can hire someone today and be done with content forever—tomorrow.
In order to be successful with this, you’ll need to put in a significant chunk of your own time up-front to ensure this gets off on the right foot.
The people who you’ve hired to plan and create your content should spend time holding a series of interviews with you, and whoever else on your team you think should be included.
The goal here is to facilitate a knowledge transfer from you to your content creators. This includes a general understanding of your subject matter, but more importantly, your unique insights, stories, experiences, and anecdotes that will help build your company’s unique point of view.
I recommend holding at least two separate interviews:
The first interview should cover the high-level lay of the land. Questions should include things like:
- What’s the story behind why your company was started?
- What is the problem that your business solves for customers?
- Describe your best customers to date.
- (and lots more questions like these, with followups)
After the first interview, your content team should go back and do their own research. They should read other content you’ve published, read up on your competitors and other publications in your industry, run keyword research, and gain a better understanding of your product or service.
Then they should provide you with a list of potential topics for your first batch of content to publish. This will be the jumping-off point for interview number two, where you should answer questions like:
- What are your overall impressions of these initial topics?
- For each one, can you share any personal insights, stories, or examples that might better inform the piece?
- Are there any bits of information we should avoid covering in any of these topics (for example, mentioning a direct competitor or suggesting a methodology you don’t believe in)?
What I just described is the typical research process we go through with new clients at Audience Ops. Want to see our full list of questions we ask on these interviews, along with our research process? I thought you’d might ask 🙂 So here ya go:
Investing too much time for too long.
Again, even though you’re outsourcing your content production, you still need to be spending some time, especially early on, to help solidify the strategy and set it on the right course to succeed (and keep improving).
It is possible to invest too much of your time for too long.
Early on, the value of your input into the content creation process is two-fold:
- You’re transferring knowledge, insights, stories, and feedback to help your writers, editors, and strategists nail the right topics and tone for your audience.
- At the same time, you’re setting them up to be able to uncover more insights and develop (and finalize) new topics in the future, with less and less of your input required.
That second point is the tricky part. If you find that after several months of working with a content team you’re constantly having to give extensive feedback, edits, or re-write content yourself, then something may need to change.
The most effective way to avoid edits and rewrites after the fact is to spend a bit more time talking through topics with your content team before they begin drafting those topics. The more time you spend on this in the early weeks when you’re outsourcing your content, the less time you’ll need to spend doing those topic interview calls going forward.
Of course, after the content is written, you may find there are lots of things you want to change or edit. That’s natural. After all, the content wasn’t written by you, so it will never be a true representation of what you would have produced. And that’s OK!
Still, you want to assert your notes to your content team so that they are as constructive and forward-looking as possible. By that, I mean your notes should be aimed to fix any glaring issues in the content piece at hand, but also aim to correct and improve those details in all future pieces. In other words, you shouldn’t need to give the same note twice.
I created a special checklist you can use when reviewing every content piece your team sends to you. It should help you provide critical, constructive, and forward-looking feedback.
Measuring & Acting on Results
Pitfall #4 is failure to measure results and make adjustments as you go. When outsourcing content, how should you measure and optimize over time?
When Will Results Come?
First things first: One of the most common pitfalls here is not giving content enough time to be successful, or at least enough time to learn what’s working and what needs adjustment.
Newsflash: Content marketing is not an overnight, flip-the-switch-and-see-results tactic. It’s a long-game strategy.
That’s not to say you can’t start gaining traction even with your first piece of content. You can. But the real benefit of growing your content “footprint” is the fact that those assets can work for you and keep working for you for a long time to come.
Remember, your ROI won’t actually be worth it if your content strategy requires you in order to keep working. So aside from growing traffic, leads, and sales with content, your goal is to make outsourcing content a sustainable, repeatable operation that brings those results and keeps them coming for a long time to come.
Still, the question remains: How long is long enough to see results?
In short, six months is a good starting-point to gauge how promising content is for your business, and whether it can continue on without requiring too much of your time. You can see movement within three months, but six months gives you a more complete picture.
Let’s break it down:
|Within one month:|
|Within three months:|
|Within six months:|
Those are the high-level milestones. If you want our recommended month-by-month checklist of assets and milestones to accomplish during your first six months, grab your copy here:
Obviously, keeping a close eye on your results, or your return on investment in content marketing, is crucial—especially when you’re outsourcing your content production. In fact, when you’re not in charge of the content creation and distribution, that puts you in a better position to focus on grading your results over time.
Did you notice that I didn’t say measuring results? Instead, I went with grading results. Here’s why:
The benefits of content marketing—particularly when you’ve outsourced the entire process—can bring both qualitative and quantitative results.
In other words, some results you can (and should) measure with hard numeric data. Traffic, for example, would be one metric that would be a quantitative result that can be measured.
Other results, such as the amount of time you’ve freed up when you’re no longer in charge of creating content are a little harder to measure in hard data terms. Layer on the value of your time, and the value of all the things you’ll be able to accomplish when you have more time and focus—like shipping product, talking to more customers, or growing your team—and you can see that these do bring significant benefits, but they’re harder to actually measure. These are qualitative results.
This is why I think a grading structure gives you a better look at how your content strategy is working for your business.
Again, I strongly suggest you give your strategy a full six months before making any final decisions based on your grading. But that’s not to say you shouldn’t watch your metrics every step of the way and make adjustments. I’ll show you how in a moment.
First, here’s a list of the data points you should be measuring as time goes on:
Generally, you should see a slow but steady increase in traffic as you consistently publish content. But more importantly, the quality of that traffic should improve (more qualified customers) and the “spikeyness” of your traffic should smooth out over time.
Metrics to watch:
- Overall site traffic
- Organic traffic (traffic from search engines, referrals, social media, and emails)
- Return visitors
- New visitors
There are a number of ways that content should improve your lead flow. Email list growth is just one piece of the puzzle. You also want to watch how the engagement of your messages improves, how long subscribers stay engaged, and how many convert to leads or refer leads your way (referrals from subscribers often drive more leads than the subscribers themselves).
- Email list growth
- Email open-rates
- Email click-rates
- Sales leads (free trials, consultation requests, etc.)
- Long-term engagement (number of messages received from you after one month, unsubscribe rates, long-term open-rates, etc.)
Every business owner should be looking at sales. In regards to content ROI specifically, watch to see how your sales numbers become more predictable. You might not see huge increases overnight, but you should see less feast and famine, more loyalty, retention, and/or repeat purchases—especially from long-time members of your audience who may have otherwise gone “cold” if you didn’t follow up with strong content.
- Overall sales revenue
- First-time purchases
- Repeat purchases (or subscriptions retained)
Feedback & Insights
What are you learning from your customers as a result of your content strategy? What are they saying when they reply to your emails? Which topics are getting more traction on social media? What are their common questions? How might these insights work their way into your product?
- Replies to emails
- Mentions on social media
- Blog comments
Your Time & Focus
Again (I’ll keep hammering it home because it’s so important), your time and focus on content should steadily ramp down while your outsourced content team keeps running. How have your hours reduced over time? With renewed free time and focus, how has this impacted your other initiatives?
- Hours spent by you (or your team) working on your content and distribution
- Progress made on non-content projects
Start With a Baseline
What’s more important than tracking all of the results I listed above?
Knowing where these were at before you started investing in content. I recommend digging back through your existing data and/or giving some thought to the qualitative items listed above. Document where these metrics were at in the three to six months prior to beginning your outsourced content initiative.
In order to easily track your baseline metrics and ongoing updates, you should have a place to record this data, review it, update it, and analyze it. I’ve created a simple spreadsheet for you to use, which helps you put a grade on each of your metrics on a monthly basis.
This will enable you to track improvements, stagnation, or decreases, which you can then use when…
So you’ve begun publishing content and working with an outsourced content team. You’ve also started tracking your progress in your grading spreadsheet.
What if your grades aren’t looking so hot? Just like any marketing channel, it needs both time and active adjustments in order to fully dial in the results you want.
Here are some common adjustments you can make, in collaboration with your content team:
Traffic hasn’t increased?
- If you’ve been publishing weekly content for less than three months, try giving it more time before making significant adjustments.
- If your traffic and email list started at zero, you should consider investing more resources into content promotion to help your content gain more exposure:
- Run pay-per-click ads to boost free content to targeted audiences.
- Spend time in niche communities answering questions, which include links pointing to your content.
- Interview influencers, include their quotes in your content, then reach out to let them know they’ve been mentioned.
Conversions to leads haven’t increased?
- Ensure you’re publishing valuable, relevant lead magnets on every piece of content using Content Upgrades.
- Create and optimize a lead nurturing sequence for new subscribers, such as an email course, webinar, or series of pre-optimized email newsletters.
- Run retargeting ads shown to people who’ve viewed your content but haven’t opted-in for a lead magnet yet. Show them an alternate lead magnet, such as an eBook.
Sales haven’t increased?
- Identify ways to target the topics of your content at more ideal customers. Run a survey or interviews with customers to get a better understanding of which topics resonate with them.
- Do you have consistent, long-term followup in place? Many leads won’t buy for many months, so you must ensure you have automated, weekly emails sending open-worthy content to their email inbox.
- Place strategic calls-to-action within your content and in your email sequences to present your product/service as a logical next step after learning from you.
You’re still spending too much time on content?
- Hold an additional call or two with your content team to give them a better understanding of your material, so they can run with topics without input from you.
- Change the focus of your content to a simpler angle, which could both make it easier for your outsourced content team to produce on their own, and make your subject-matter more relatable to potential customers.
I hope this guide helped you gain clarity into how to avoid the most common mistakes when hiring a writer and outsourcing your content marketing.
No matter which part of your business you’re working on, it’s always smart to plan your strategy first, then focus on execution. That’s why I put together the bonus resources included in this article to help you do just that.
After you’ve taken time to go through those resources and jot down your notes, here are the next steps you can take:
- Decide what your personal goals are for outsourcing content
- Seek out an outsourced content team and get that ball rolling
- Plan specific milestone dates for launching your first pieces of content and measuring results.
If you’re looking for a dedicated content team of specialists to go to work for your audience, I invite you to talk to my team and I at Audience Ops. We’ll discuss how our end-to-end content service can help you grow more sustainable traffic, keep your leads engaged, and of course, reduce the time you spend working on content.